External backup drive for Macbook Pro

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by macstatic, Jun 15, 2014.

  1. macstatic macrumors 65816

    Oct 21, 2005
    I need a backup drive for a 13" (non-retina) i5 Macbook Pro and having read some threads on the subject (this one among others) there seems to be quite a few pitfalls to avoid. A few thoughts:

    • Firewire or USB 3? Firewire would be compatible with my Mac Pro as well, but USB 3 would work with all PCs too (also USB-2 equipped ones at a lower speed) and I understand it's a lot faster than Firewire. Correct?
    • MSDOS format: in case my Powerbook dies while on the road it would be nice to access my files on another computer, which could be someone else's PC or Mac, and since Macs work with MDOS formatted drives but PCs won't work with Mac formatted drives the choice is easy. But according to one poster in the above linked forum thread you should never back up to a DOS formatted drive when using a Mac as it's unreliable.
    • Bus-powered: I've never had problems with my bus-powered drives (used with a Powerbook G4) when using Firewire, but with USB 2 I've experienced not getting enough power to spin up the drive properly. Can I get the same problem with USB 3? I prefer bus-powered drives for less hassle than bringing along an additional power-brick and cable.
    • What brand drive should I go for? According to the above discussion many manufacturers (Western Digital among others) force users to install special drivers or software, and also won't allow other drive mechanisms to be used with their enclosures. Is there any truth to this?
      I do actually have a Glyph and G-Tech Mini drive which were used with my Powerbook, and both have Firewire 800/USB 2, but they're too small now. A bare drive mechanism doesn't cost much less than a complete external drive, and the drives still don't sport USB 3, so I might just as well get a new external drive.

    So, what would you suggest I get? I see well known brands such as Western Digital, Seagate and Toshiba all make bus-powered drives which seem suitable for the task, but like I said it doesn't seem to be just a matter of chosing a suitably sized drive and the interface of your choice any longer.
  2. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    The OP's questions:

    [[ Firewire or USB 3? ]]
    USB3, hands down. I would also suggest that you ONLY get a drive or enclosure that specifically states that it supports "UASP" (USB Attached SCSI Protocol). You need this in order to achieve the full speeds of which USB3 is capable.

    [[ MSDOS format ]]
    No. Just no.
    If you intend to keep files that are -important- to you on the drive, it should be HFS+ ONLY. Do not trust a "hybrid-formatted" drive for cherished Mac files.
    If you need "cross-platform" compatibility, get ANOTHER drive (USB3 flashdrive might work) specifically for this purpose.
    But again, I would NEVER trust important Mac files on a cross-formatted drive that gets used with PCs. I've read reports from other users time and again, where they connected such a drive to the PC, took it back to the Mac, and...... POOF! The drive was no longer mountable on the Mac.

    [[ Bus-powered ]]
    This can work for some drives, not with others.
    I don't think you'll find many (any?) 3.5" drives that can run from bus power.
    Some 2.5" drives will run, others may cause problems because the Mac can't supply quite enough power over the bus to get the drive up-and-running.
    Best insurance is to pick a drive that offers BOTH bus power AND a connector for external "brick" power.

    [[ What brand drive should I go for? ]]
    My advice (and will be different from others):
    Don't buy another pre-packaged drive.
    Instead, buy the SSD or HDD "bare drive" of your choice, then buy either an enclosure or USB3/SATA "docking station" to go with it.
    Putting a drive together yourself is easy. I got one of these:
    .... and it takes all of 90 seconds to put the drive into it and snap the cover on.

    A big advantage of "building your own" drive is that since you put it together, if there's ever a problem, you know how to take it apart, as well...
  3. Weaselboy Moderator


    Staff Member

    Jan 23, 2005
    It really is that simple and everyone is overcomplicating this. Just buy whatever 2.5 inch bus powered USB3 drive you can find on sale in the size you need and run with it. Your new Macbook can run a bus powered USB3 drive with no problems.

    First thing when you get a new drive of any brand is start up Disk Utility and erase the drive to the Mac OS Extended format to get rid of any crapware the vendor has put on there. That is the source of most of the problems you read about and you don't need that software.

    I like the WD My Passport drives because they are inexpensive and you can find them everywhere, but any brand is fine.

    If you were using the drive to boot from and run your computer, all this arguing about which drive is a squeak faster might matter, but for a backup drive, who cares about a small difference in speeds.
  4. macstatic thread starter macrumors 65816

    Oct 21, 2005
    Obviously there's some disagreement on if a ready-to-use drive is a good solution or not. I'd have no problem buying an empty 2.5" USB3 enclosure and inserting my own 2.5" drive but as I need the drive now and don't have any stores nearby selling suitable enclosures I'll either have to wait or buy a ready to use one. Besides, why are those bare enclosures usually so butt ugly?

    Those WD Passport drives look very nice, but I'm worried about what I hear concerning software problems and the need for specific drivers, but perhaps that's just references to the bundled software (I'll just be reformatting the drive in Disk Utility anyway and use it with Time Machine or Chronosync -I can't understand why the manufacturers market their drive as a "Mac version" or "PC version" other than marketing tactics to sell more. Is there really any difference apart from the design/color of the enclosures?).
    And is it true that some of those ready to use drives won't accept a different drive mechanism (in case I want to upgrade to a bigger drive later and use the same enclosure)?

    Regarding the use of MSDOS format: why is this a problem? I thought the whole idea was that OSX is designed to use that disk format. It sure would make life easier if I was traveling, my Mac broke down and I'd need to continue using the backup drive as an emergency (i.e. dumping more photos from memory cards).
  5. macstatic thread starter macrumors 65816

    Oct 21, 2005
    I found an answer to my question about non-replaceable drives as I just read that some manufacturers (WD among others) use hard drives with integrated USB-3 connectors to save space. Unfortunately this also means you can't just pop a new drive into the enclosure. I was considering getting the WD My Passport Air...
  6. Weaselboy Moderator


    Staff Member

    Jan 23, 2005
    You don't need any drivers or manufacturer software with the WD My Passport drives. Like you said, just format to Mac OS Extended and go to it.

    I think they make those Mac versions for people that don't realize how easy it is just to reformat. Oddly, sometimes I see the Mac versions cheaper on Amazon.

    This is true of some drives, but I don't care for my purposes. For what they cost, I use them until they break and buy a new one. I just looked on Amazon and a bare 1GB 2.5" inch drive costs the same (or more) as a 1TB external USB3 drive, so why bother.

    You will need at least one partition on the drive in the Mac format to be able to use Time Machine. If you want to format a second partition in FAT or ExFAT to swap some files with Windows, that is fine, but those file systems are not as stable since they are not journaled. This makes FAT more susceptible to corruption from power outages or improperly ejecting from the computer. But if you just want to use it to share some files you have backed up elsewhere, it will work fine.
  7. hallux macrumors 68030


    Apr 25, 2012
    What Weaselboy said...

    I have a standard (NOT Mac-specific) WD MyPassport USB 3.0 external drive. It's a 2.0 TB drive with a 1.5 TB TM partition (in Mac OS Extended format) and a 500 GB ExFAT partition just in case I need to use it on either Windows OR Mac.

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